Ten years ago, Louise Blackwell founded Fuel with fellow producer Kate McGrath. As part of the company’s 10th birthday season, they are producing Phenomenal People, a live performance and online platform that celebrates inspirational women
What is the concept behind Phenomenal People?
We came up with the idea, in about 2011, when we were really wanting to make a project that has stories of women at the front and centre. As two women leading an arts organisation, we are very aware that many of the stories that are shared are about men, and we wanted to do a little intervention. Initially, we commissioned 15 female artists to make work across all art forms about women that inspire them. We’ve built a partnership with the Cultural Institute at King’s, who helped us work with academics and think about the questions we are asking and also develop the digital aspect. We’re trying to make a connection between the physical and online spaces that make up the project.
Has digital been one of the biggest developments in the work you make at Fuel?
I think so. It’s certainly come out of a desire to reach more people and also experiment with form. The first thing was our podcast series which began in 2010. Since then we’ve been doing three different series of podcasts, which have been released once a month over the last three years. We’ve been involved in making an app, short films that are distributed digitally, and things that think about how collective storytelling can happen online. Our hearts and souls will always be in the live performance, that’s where our origins are, but it’s exciting to look at different ways of presenting work.
How did you set up Fuel?
Kate and I worked together at Battersea Arts Centre as producers and we were in the bar one day, thinking what we should do next. We invited some of the artists who we were working with to come along with us for the ride. They all said yes, and that’s where it began really. The moment that it properly became real was when the Jerwood Foundation gave us a grant to support emerging producers, and we knew then that we were going to make that jump. That was the moment where we went ‘okay, we’re doing this for real now’. Then we became funded by Arts Council England and that gave us a real base. There’s always massive fundraising targets but to be able to have that little bit of security allows us to take more risks, I think.
How has the company changed in its first 10 years?
Having this anniversary has been a fantastic opportunity to look back at what we’ve done but also try and draw together strands of work that are emerging. Everyone that we work with is so utterly different, and that diversity has always been important to us, so we never want to put people under one big umbrella. We’ve started to commission more work, rather than have artists come to us with ideas and we make them happen. Phenomenal People is an example of how the company is much more a combination of both those things now. It feels massively important to have that ongoing relationship between art forms and artists that allows us to really push boundaries and build audiences.
Training: Dartington College
First professional job: Admin and press representative, Brighton Theatre Events, 1995
Phenomenal People takes place at ARC in Stockton on October 17 and 18.